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How to use the law to make a difference

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By Alex Wade on

Ahead of ‘How to become a serious injury lawyer: live in Manchester’ next week, Fletchers’ Mark Tempest looks back on some of his most memorable cases

Mark Tempest, the head of the Medical Negligence Serious Injury department at Fletchers, is an articulate man. He has a zest not just for his work but life, too, with many interests outside the law — all of which he can talk about with ease. But when I ask him to name the most memorable case he’s worked on, Tempest is stumped for words. He pauses, asks me to hang on — and keeps on thinking.

Given that his career spans 30 years, it’s a fair bet that Tempest is temporarily speechless owing to a sheer surfeit of material. Soon enough, though, he settles on one memory — and it neatly illustrates what draws people to serious injury law.

“I was acting for the parents of a child who’d suffered injuries at birth,” says Tempest, whose first degree was in psychology.

Like many people in their situation, they were extraordinarily brave and selfless, wholly dedicated to making life as good as possible for their child. But they’d come up against a lot of hurdles, and by the time they came to me, when their child was 21, saw me as part of the system. But we trawled through the medical records at the time of birth, working hard to establish what the relevant standards of care would have been then, and succeeded in winning a very good settlement. It was enough to make a real difference to this family, who’d really been through the mill.

Another case springs to Tempest’s mind. “I was instructed on behalf of a woman who had been sexually abused by her psychiatrist,” he says. “She’d been crushed by the experience, and in its wake other problems had developed, involving drugs and alcohol. We were able to agree an innovative settlement, thanks to mediation — something rarely used at the time — and it enabled her to have the treatment she needed. It also provided sufficient funds for her to buy a house. We gave her the safety she needed, and it was wonderful to see how she went on to turn her life around.”

As much as obtaining justice, then, it seems that what motivates Tempest is something deeply practical. He agrees:

Lawyers like to see justice done — it’s in our nature. But in my field especially, it has to be tangible — it has to help the clients, who are people who desperately need help. That’s why, for example, securing regular and appropriate interim payments is a key part of the job.

But if Tempest ably sums up the appeal of serious injury law, how does a young solicitor get into it? After all, isn’t this an area as rarefied as, say, defamation or shipping law?

Tempest’s own career path reveals that determination counts for a lot. With science A-levels under his belt, he started undergraduate life studying engineering, only to switch to psychology. “In my final year I met someone who’d done a law conversion course — something I’d never heard of,” he says. Tempest went to the local court, found watching the lawyers at work fascinating, and the die was cast: he, too, would do the conversion course. It, and the Law Society Finals (now the LPC), were gruelling — “I amassed three suitcases of paperwork by the end,” says Tempest — but his timing was good:

The country was just coming out of recession, and the market for young lawyers was buoyant.

Tempest’s training was part spent in Stoke-on-Trent, part spent in London working for a West End firm specialising in music law. He then decided to work in York, joining Harrowells. This era saw a number of major disasters: the Manchester air crash in 1985, the Heysel stadium crush in the same year, Hillsborough in 1989, the Marchioness collision resulting in the death of 51 people, and the yet more tragic Zeebrugge ferry disaster in 1987 in which 187 people died. “These things influenced me,” says Tempest, “and I was also struck by the work of Rodger Pannone and Michael Napier, who did so much for the victims.”

Tempest worked for Harrowells for 21 years, carving out a national reputation in serious injury and clinical negligence. “I started with a brain injury case, and just kept going,” he says. “It was quite a slog, but I was determined to build a practice in this area.”

He moved to Hempsons’ Harrogate office, where he represented the NHS for three years, before joining Irwin Mitchell and then, last year, Fletchers. Throughout everything, there were constants: a love of music, a love of the outdoors (especially skiing and running) and being a family man. “I’m also a great reader,” says Tempest. “I love novels and history. I like to learn new things.”

From engineering to the law, via psychology — and then to a national name in the complex, often fraught discipline of serious injury law: it’s quite an achievement. What advice, then, does Tempest have for those who might want to follow in his footsteps?

Remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Concentrate on serving your clients and being helpful to colleagues instead.

Mark Tempest will be speaking at ‘How to become a serious injury lawyer: live in Manchester’ on Wednesday 1 March. Apply for one of the last few remaining places here.